When Joe Klein was farm director of the Texas Rangers, he was called out of a staff meeting one spring training evening in 1982 and given a heads-up. The team was about to announce that two of the system’s best young pitching prospects, Ron Darling and Walt Terrell, were being traded to the Mets for veteran outfielder Lee Mazzilli.
Klein, livid, returned to the conference room. “This meeting is [bleeping] over,” he told the stunned aides, slamming his fist on the desk before heading straight to the bar to quench his hot anger with a few cold beers.
If the Phillies development people have similar reactions when they see their best and brightest bundled up and shipped out of town, they keep it to themselves. Or maybe they’ve just gotten used to it by now.
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. announced the latest future-is-now deal moments after the Phillies beat the Pirates last night, making official what has been rumored for days.
The Phillies are getting All-Star outfielder Hunter Pence from the Astros plus $1 million in cash.
The Astros are getting four minor leaguers including a pair that have the potential to cause real remorse in a few years: Righthander Jarred Cosart and first baseman Jonathan Singleton. The Phillies also agreed to throw in righthander Josh Zeid and a player to be named later.
(Klein’s unhappiness, by the way, turned out to be well-founded. Mazzilli, who never wanted to leave New York, was traded to the Yankees before the season ended. Darling and Terrell went on to combine for 247 big league wins. A Rangers team with hopes of contending ended up losing 98 games.)
Amaro conceded up front that he had paid dearly. But the reality is that he had little choice.
The Phillies have a $175 million payroll and the best record in baseball. They also got a rude reminder of how vulnerable their lineup can be when Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum of the Giants thoroughly dominated them Wednesday and Thursday nights. They didn’t score an earned run in either of those games.
The reality is that the Phillies lineup, as it existed, was flawed. It was too lefthanded. It sorely lacked the righthanded bat that’s been missing ever since Jayson Werth departed for free-agent riches in Washington.
Pence can be that bat. He increases the chances that the Phillies will be able to cash in on one of the remaining years in their window of opportunity.
Domonic Brown might be someday. John Mayberry Jr. might be someday.
Pence is right now and that makes all the difference.
No, he may not be the kind of hitter that will force teams to pitch to Ryan Howard. But as his 62 RBI this season attest, he is the sort of hitter who has a knack for driving in runs if teams pitch around Howard to get to him.
Pence isn’t perfect. He doesn’t have the kind of power teams ideally like in corner outfielders. But he’s an all-out player who should be popular with the fans. He will help Howard but, more importantly, he will help put the slugging first baseman into a position where he can help himself.
One of the most impressive things about Howard on his way toward winning the Most Valuable Player Award in 2006 was his ability and willingness not to swing at pitches he didn’t want to swing at. He was willing to take a walk and he took them a lot, 108 of them, one for every 5.38 at bats.
That ratio has been steadily dropping ever since. Last year he walked once for every 9.32 at bats. That’s probably understandable. After signing his big contract extension, it would be only natural for him to feel the need to take the team on his shoulders.
Howard has been more patient this year, with a walk for every 7.8 ABs so far, and the acquisition of Pence should only help that. If it makes him more comfortable to let the hitter behind him take care of business, that will also be a benefit.
It will also allow manager Charlie Manuel to achieve the balance in his lineup that he talks about so often.
There is absolutely a risk here, but that won’t come into play for at least a couple years. Besides, you can say whatever you want about Amaro, but he isn’t afraid to aim high. And if there’s another parade down Broad Street late in October, will anybody really care about all those chickens that might someday come home to roost?
The Phillies want to win now.
They’ve put themselves in a position where they almost have to win now.
And Hunter Pence improves the odds.
It’s said that a starting pitcher’s job is to give his team a chance to win. The same could be said about a general manager.
Now it’s up to the players.
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